Written by SeenThat on 10 Sep, 2007
The name El Dorado immediately suggests dreams of vast, hidden fortunes and has mobilized people for centuries all over the Americas. Those quests created treasures of traveling experiences and very little else.However, the name became a synonym of an unaccomplished, unattainable dream. Soon after my…Read More
The name El Dorado immediately suggests dreams of vast, hidden fortunes and has mobilized people for centuries all over the Americas. Those quests created treasures of traveling experiences and very little else.However, the name became a synonym of an unaccomplished, unattainable dream. Soon after my arrival at Santa Fe, I was invited to Eldorado, a tiny settlement twenty miles south of the city. Was the name misspelling a casual error, or did it indicate an attempt to change history’s course?Before I could properly tour the place, we entered a vast, low house and I found myself with a steaming cup of coffee in my hands."What was the dream behind this Eldorado?" I asked my host."We want to be a self-sufficient community."My question was in place. Suddenly my host was a blur of quick movements dragging me out, to the yard. I made a mental note: next time ask such a question only after finishing the coffee.In the yard, while standing next to a monstrous 4x4 vehicle, my host tried agitatedly to explain all the dream’s details at once. Shutting off his voice, I relaxed and began looking around at the five or six houses arranged around us. Despite being part of the Santa Fe County, all the houses were built of thick adobe bricks and coated with a pastel-colored cement layer; as per the city’s regulations.All the houses had a water collection system which led rain water from the roof into big black plastic tanks, which were tightly closed. Later, I learned this water was mixed with the one provided by the county and re-filtered before consumption due to the heavy and radioactive metals polluting the area. My host told me it there wasn’t enough rain in the area and thus they couldn’t be autonomous in that aspect.Most houses had expensive photovoltaic solar panels. At $30000 each, they supplied all their electricity’s need and enabled selling the surplus to the county’s network. "It saves me $30-40 per month," my host said with shiny stars in his eyes. "It would take you a thousand months to cover the expense – I countered and continued – why don’t you use cheap thermal solar technology and cover the expenses within one year?"He seemed puzzled by my unsophisticated, primitive, reaction. After a second or two, he replied slowly, so I would understand:"Oh, that’s too old; we want to be on the technological edge," he dismissed my weird idea. I corrected his earlier definition: they want to be an ultra-modern self-sufficient settlement.The houses were surrounded by huge yards; most of those were empty while others featured a few trees. I recognized young Ponderosa Pines, which held the promise of turning into majestic trees. On the sun spots among them, lazy lizards tried to shake-off the residues of last night coldness. "Why don’t you grow vegetables and create self-sufficient salads?" I asked while calculating the slim probability of taking a good photograph of the nearest lizard. "Because they will be polluted," he answered patiently."I still do not understand – I continued nagging – how people live here. Do they work in Eldorado?""We have around five thousand houses and most residents work in Santa Fe or Albuquerque.""Are you self sufficient with the gasoline or with the cars?""Even if there was oil under our land, it wouldn’t be ours due to the local laws."At this time I decided to show mercy and drop the topic. After a quick meal prepared with products brought from all around the planet we toured the little commercial center by the settlement’s main entrance. The attractive garden at its center was half-covered by a wood pavilion and surrounded by several shops. Beyond the compulsory supermarket, the pizza and the coffee shops there was little else. What caught my attention was that local products and foods – like roasted chilies – were completely missing there.From Canada to Chile, endless versions of El Dorado were founded, each fuelled by its own dream, which invariably turned out to be just another Utopia. However, in the era of the Global Village, we are all part of one vastly complex human matrix. Nobody is completely independent of society and society is – to some extent – dependent on each one of us.No society is independent from the rest of humanity. Any gadget in our pockets enabling a dream of autonomy had been probably produced with parts designed and produced in a zillion factories. Enjoying the productive force of the whole humanity creates the responsibility to care for the weak parts of it.Our fellow writer, SkewedStyle, is providing a fine example by caring about children in Malawi finishing their education. The noble dream of self-sufficiency would never be accomplished while a single child across the earth cannot finish his – or hers – education, please visit our website and help transform that dream into reality. Close
Written by SeenThat on 16 Aug, 2006
"Let's climb the Mountain," I was told enigmatically by a local Santa Fean.
My puzzlement was obvious: at Santa Fe's northern border are the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the Jemez Mountains are close and many small, spiky, hills are scattered all around.
She couldn't help…Read More
"Let's climb the Mountain," I was told enigmatically by a local Santa Fean.
My puzzlement was obvious: at Santa Fe's northern border are the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the Jemez Mountains are close and many small, spiky, hills are scattered all around.
She couldn't help with the name, but patiently explained to me that there is only one Mountain, and it is at the end of the Ski Basin Road. The August afternoon was rainy, foggy and cold and the idea of trekking a bit attracted me. She brought her children, who were lured by the prospect of finding edible mushrooms, and we began traveling north of downtown toward the general direction of the Ski Basin. It took very little to find that the Ski Basin Road is actually called the Hyde Park Road and that the Mountain is named Tesuque. Double naming is a local pastime.
The way crosses the Santa Fe National Forest, which I visited in another opportunity from its other side in Pecos. After leaving the town, the undulating road enters a forested area which includes the Hyde Memorial State Park, the Little Tesuque and Black Canyon, the Big Tesuque and the Ski Basin. The Big Tesuque is reached in about half an hour of driving and its facilities are just a basic parking place at one of the many curves. Pines, some of them mighty ponderosas, and sun loving aspens grow densely on the slopes, and a dense fog—or was it a cloud at this altitude?—covered some of them, looking like a moving missing part in a giant puzzle.
Big Tesuque is the name of the upper watershed of the Tesuque Creek; it extends from the Big Tesuque Recreation Site uphill to Tesuque Peak, at approximately 4000m elevation and includes several small streams that feed into Tesuque Creek.
The actual shape of the forest is the result of a large fire near the turn of the century; in the process of forest succession, species like the aspen are among the first to re-vegetate. Once established, the aspen forest provides shade and cooler ground temperatures, allowing the shade loving spruce and fir species to grow. The new trees rise up and tower over the aspen, robbing it of the sunlight it needs. Hence the actually dense forest of aspen is declining.
The Big Tesuque Trail follows the North Fork of Tesuque Creek from its junction with the Tesuque Peak Road, from less than one kilometer above the entrance to another junction with the Winsor Trail, less than two kilometers below it. The trail is open to all form of non-motorized recreation, such as hiking, jogging, mountain biking, and horseback riding. In the winter, the area offers tree skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing opportunities as well. Overnight camping is free, but subject to a fortnight stay limit.
We walked the upper part of the trail and the little girls, three and five years old, didn't complain about the exercise and were happy in their search for edible mushrooms which thrived here. Charmingly, in a kid of poetic justice, they placed the uprooted mushrooms inside an umbrella turned upside down. The trail was wet but not slippery, the narrow stream allowed crossing it back and forth, the shade and fog created a pleasant walking environment and maybe more important than all that, there weren't any other visitors; isolationist New Mexicans hardly leave their homes. While climbing, only the trail to the right of the stream was complete, the other side allowed just short walks into hidden meadows. Fallen trees occasionally created improvised bridges over the stream, to the delight of the children.
In a very slow walk, the way up took around half an hour and the end of the trail was abrupt, there wasn't any possibility to park there fore a picnic; there is only one table in the park and it is located next to the entrance. The only feasible solution is to bring some kind of water resistant blanket and to spread it in one of the casual open spaces of the forest.
At first sight, Santa Fe looked to me as a desert, but hidden within the mountains, is a lush forest waiting to be discovered.
Written by SeenThat on 31 Jul, 2006
A friend of mine, a journalist in Santa Fe, New Mexico, called suddenly telling me he had got a couple of invitations to the International Peace Prayer Day at Ram Das Puri, not far away from Española. I jumped into his old van and used…Read More
A friend of mine, a journalist in Santa Fe, New Mexico, called suddenly telling me he had got a couple of invitations to the International Peace Prayer Day at Ram Das Puri, not far away from Española. I jumped into his old van and used the hour-long trip to find out where we were going.
As always in this area, the story was a mishmash of contradictions and people. Ram Das Puri is nowadays a Sikh settlement and apparently their main center in New Mexico. Belonging to a people with a long tradition as warriors, they found their place here as private-security providers. Without blinking twice, my friend added that the land was sacred to the Hopi, who used it for their Sacred Healing Walk around a 2km-long circle. Since 1990, the Sikhs have created the International Peace Prayer Day, basing it on the old Hopi tradition.
Not exactly knowing what to expect, we traveled north along Highway 285 and crossed Tesuque and the Pojoaque Valley, and, after reaching Española, continued north and then turned left into the Jemez mountains, through a dirt road. A shaky sign told us that our target was 8 miles ahead; along the dusty way, some very determined guests were trying to reach the site jogging while a security vehicle watched over their safety.
Climbing gently for a few minutes, we got to the gate, our invitations were checked, our names taken, and a VIP stamp was pressed on our hands. According to the hosts, the Peace Prayer Day brings together people of all faiths and cultures to forge positive change for the planet and to experience the magic of the sacred healing walk, evening chanting, live music and meditation circles.
Several huge white tents hosted the main events; beyond them was a sign stating that camping wasn't allowed, but next to it were maybe a hundred small tents belonging to some of the event guests. The main tent contained a stage were several speakers and singers belonging to the Sikh faith communicated to a large crowd. Another tent served as a big dining room and kitchen and a third was an improvised shop, selling mainly Indian (from the subcontinent - not the Hopi) products, CD's and DVD's, clothes, aromatic soaps, incense and stalls advertising other related events shared the limited space.
Looking for a chai, we approached the kitchen and were sent away, but not after receiving a military definition of the chai-serving hours. Tea had a different set of rules. I was afraid to ask about the coffee.
The formal program began around 4pm and included items as a talk by the Bioneers, the 2006 Peace Cereal Grant, Interfaith Prayers for Peace, the Izzat da Punjab – Bhangra Dance Troupe, the Chimayo Peace Flame Runners and a Peace Meditation with Yogi Bhajan. The sacred healing Walk began at 5:30pm and included a blessing with feathers and smoke performed by a Native-American and right after it, at 18:15 a performance by Bangra World Fusion Dance Mix began. An Evening of Sacred Music Concert followed it.
The way back to Santa Fe was great, as always under the dark skies of New Mexico.
Written by SeenThat on 23 Apr, 2006
Inexplicably, the same people preaching against pollution, were unable to understand the polluting effect of noise; by the end of the day, the drums’ vibrations were strong enough to destabilize my camera even 50m away from the main stage. However, everything began 6 hours before…Read More
Inexplicably, the same people preaching against pollution, were unable to understand the polluting effect of noise; by the end of the day, the drums’ vibrations were strong enough to destabilize my camera even 50m away from the main stage. However, everything began 6 hours before that.Once a year, on the April 22, Santa Fe celebrates the Earth Day next to the Ecoversity site, at 2639 Agua Fria Street. An hour before noon, the events began a couple of hundred meters from there, with a gathering and a big parade.A colorful pagan rite was performed at a dusty esplanade; its circular dance around smoking ashes defined the mood for the rest of the day. Tall birds danced to the beat of a local band; the art of walking on sticks was graciously performed by a talented group bearing disguises. A speech by the new mayor declared the date to be the All Species Day.Around two hundred people, most of them carrying representations of animals constructed with organic materials, watched the event and walked through Aguas Frias Street to the Ecoversity site to the obvious delight of the surrounding cars.The stalls were arranged in three plazas connected through a pressed dirt path and were mainly advertising services connected to the themes of pollution and preservation. Natural dye for fabric and yarn, concerned citizens for nuclear safety, adobe building, community composting, sun power, killer bee honey, wildlife organizations, massage stops, face painting and the Green Party were all there. A Children Village kept them busy.Under the flag of consuming organic products, the food was extremely overpriced; the sellers failed to explain why food grown saving the costs of nutrient chemicals and pesticides should be more expensive. The tired brewed coffee waited for hours in thermoses and was sold lukewarm at three times the price of the same bad coffee at the nearby convenience store. The same ice-cream given away as a free sampling in any supermarket, was sold here at 5.5 dollars. Pseudo-Asian food got a similar treatment.In the late afternoon the stalls were dissembled and the main stage became more active. An African band gave place to belly dancing, and a French singer was a prelude to the drums. The last began with a grandiose plan to create a drumming circle around 6pm, but even its humble beginnings caused the troubled earth to shake with uncontrollable vibrations and me to get an epiphany regarding the best way to celebrate Earth.
Written by SeenThat on 22 May, 2006
During my travels, I always try to visit Lutheran churches whenever possible. People who had heard about me usually invite me to speak, to give a lesson or just for a homey lunch; however, Santa Fe, being the Different City, prepared a very unusual experience…Read More
During my travels, I always try to visit Lutheran churches whenever possible. People who had heard about me usually invite me to speak, to give a lesson or just for a homey lunch; however, Santa Fe, being the Different City, prepared a very unusual experience for me.
"Hello, there is someone who wants to meet you," I was told in my third week in one of the local temples. Following a short talk, I found that I’ve been invited for lunch in one of the suburbs by Shanadii, Geronimo’s granddaughter. Not knowing who Geronimo was, I used the trip to get a brief update by the brothers who invited me and shortly after we arrived to a large house surrounded by a forest of pines, majestic Ponderosas and sturdy Pinions. Two years short of eighty, Shanadii turned to be a vigorous soul with a rare intelligence. "You want to drink something," she asked while leading me to the kitchen, where maybe two hundred kinds of teas were awaiting me. Looking at the wide choice and wanting to drink the same one as she, I asked which one was her choice; "I drink coffee, from the soluble kind," she shot while lighting a cigarette which was exchanged by others until I left a few hours later.
Next week, I was invited again, and after a couple of coffees, she told me: "I want to give you a gift; you are invited to our next Fire Circle." Fire Circles turned to be ceremonies of religious nature performed by the Apaches and other related groups in which a representation of their orally transmitted traditions is done around a central fire. When the time came, I arrived to the same site and around 5pm we had a magnificent potluck and waited for the weather to cool down a bit.
One hour later, we were led to a small opening in the forest, where a circle of stones awaited us. Thirty-two participants sat on the stones while Shanadii took an elevated seat just out of it and presided the ceremony’s different stages, which were performed by others. A central fire was lighted, and then the drawing of The Circle began. The drawing was done with grounded corn and created sharp yellow lines on the pastel brown ground; after putting the corn on the ground and drawing the desired shape, the line was redrawn with a finger following the corn path, so that each line got a depression on its center.
The corn is considered a sacred plant due to his many uses in their culture. All the drawings were done at the rhythm of a slow, deep drumming. The first drawing was a circle around the central fire; it represented the Earth and was drawn, as most of the other pictograms, from the east through the south. Following was the Creator’s Circle, wider and containing the first one. Four short lines, each one marking a compass direction, crossed the circles and then Infinity Lines were added at the intersection of those with the outer circle. The Infinity Lines were shaped as an "X" with their center at the exact intersection point and they represented the gifts of the Creator to us.
Two short lines connecting the inner part of the X’s to the compass line were added and represented our thanks to him. Shanadii asked from the drawers to explain the meaning of their doings and sometimes added a few words. Following, two Pipes of Peace were added in each quarter and represented the different people; they represented a kind of New Covenant between the Creator and the People, following an old downfall. The pipes had a feminine and masculine side and their symmetry showed a perfect equality among the genders. A third circle was drawn between the pipes, showing the unity among people. Then two shapes were added in each quarter, next to the outer circle. First, a symbol for the trees and another for the bushes were drawn at the southeast quarter, then one for the four legged creatures was drawn at the southwest quarter, and then symbols for the sea water creatures and the birds in the third quarter. In the last one, symbols for the fresh water and crawling creatures were added.
Shanadii explained then that we are living in a transition year, and the mark for two-legged creatures (humans) was added next to the four-legged one. In other years, the human’s symbol is not drawn. Ending the circle, a symbolic eye was added at the outer part of each "X" and a blue point, the only non-yellow point in the whole drawing, was added to each. They represent the constant watch of the Creator over his creatures.
Once the drawing was finished, a fourth circle—the four being a sacred number in their culture—was created on the central fire and was dedicated to the Creator. Then, everyone stood up around the external circle and prayers were said, the fire was left to burn and we left. At 9pm, already in darkness, we devoured the rest of the food and traveled home, not without an invitation for the coming Solstice Circle.
Written by BawBaw on 05 Dec, 2004
A "great house" of the pre-Columbian peoples of the American Southwest was a multi-storied pueblo compound that almost always included at least one "great kiva." In turn, a kiva, great or otherwise, was (and still is among modern Pueblo tribes) a round ceremonial chamber used…Read More
A "great house" of the pre-Columbian peoples of the American Southwest was a multi-storied pueblo compound that almost always included at least one "great kiva." In turn, a kiva, great or otherwise, was (and still is among modern Pueblo tribes) a round ceremonial chamber used to mark occasions of special significance. Chaco Culture National Historical Park in northwestern New Mexico protects and showcases the great houses that lay at the spiritual center of the Chacoan universe.
Scholarly opinion regards the great houses of Chaco, constructed incrementally between 850 and 1150, as an extraordinary example of public architecture. They were built to accommodate the ceremonial needs of a scattered people—probably a people diverse enough to speak different languages despite their common culture. The year-round population of Chaco is thought to have been relatively small, perhaps as few as several hundred people, whereas at peak ceremonials the great houses were able to accommodate several thousand pilgrims.
Modern visitors to Chaco Canyon have no such grand accommodations, but they are free to visit several important sites. Each one is impressive in a different way. The paved loop road in the heart of the park brings five of the great houses to within easy walking distance. Each of these five sites is connected to the loop by means of well-laid, self-guiding trails of a mile or less (roundtrip), some of which are accessible by wheelchair. Several other great house sites may be reached by means of the park’s four backcountry trails, ranging from 3 to 6.4 miles (roundtrip). Our overnight stay of less than 24 hours didn’t allow time for the backcountry trails, but it did permit us to take a good sampling of the sites accessible from the loop drive.
Our first goal was Pueblo Bonito, the best known and most extensively excavated of Chaco’s great houses. Its stunning architecture, characteristic "D" shape, and well-preserved doorways have come to exemplify the accomplishments of pre-Columbian Pueblo peoples in general and the Chacoans in particular. Such was the craftsmanship of its builders that when excavations began in the 1890s, after six centuries of abandonment, more than 50 rooms at Pueblo Bonito were still fully intact.
At its zenith, Pueblo Bonito consisted of an enclosed compound containing more than 650 rooms and at least 35 kivas built around a double plaza. Rising as high as five stories and covering an area of about 7½ acres, it was and is magnificently beautiful. In its heyday, its walls would have been plastered and painted. Today the warm, sand-colored walls blend perfectly into the desert landscape.
Walking around and through Pueblo Bonito is a humbling experience. The approach recommended by the Park Service starts at the southeast corner of the pueblo and leads directly back to where one of those towering pillars of rock along the canyon wall has recently collapsed—recent, that is, in terms of how the canyon measures time. The Chacoans deliberately chose to build in the wake of that huge, tilting column of rock, apparently because doing so allowed them to achieve an alignment with cardinal north. To compensate for a threat that they clearly recognized, they built a retaining wall at the rock base and placed prayer sticks in the fissure between the pillar and the cliff face. And who can argue against the effectiveness of their prayers. The Chacoans were long gone by 1941, when the pillar finally collapsed, crushing a section of the pueblo.
We followed the path from the back of the compound through a series of rooms, into the western plaza, and past several kivas—including Pueblo Bonito’s great kivas. Along the way, we encountered grinding stones once used for making meal from grain, an enduring reminder of domesticity from the past. Crossing the eastern plaza, we skirted several smaller kivas and descended a stairway into the interior of the pueblo, where we passed through a series of low doorways and into several rooms. Wandering in solitude through these rooms is an experience not to be forgotten. The high ceilings, well-preserved wooden beams, bits of plaster clinging to the walls, and the magnificent low doorways all serve to fire the imagination. Little wonder that Pueblo Bonito is an object of pilgrimage for modern followers of New Age mysticism.
On emerging from the intact rooms, we had but to turn and look above us to find an intriguing corner doorway, apparently designed to catch rays of sunlight from the winter solstice and reflect them into the room beyond. This doorway is only one of many features illustrating the depth of astronomical knowledge possessed by the Chacoans.
Chetro Ketl is located about ½ mile east of Pueblo Bonito and is separated from it by the Petroglyph Trail. Smaller and almost two centuries younger than its more famous neighbor, it is the second largest of Chaco’s great houses. The first thing one notices when approaching Chetro Ketl from the west is a long straight line of masonry that faces the canyon wall. At the height of the pueblo’s glory, this long back wall would have risen three stories high, with balconies extending from its second and third levels. Today, when viewed from a distance, it resembles a ghostly avenue.
The Chetro Ketl compound once consisted of about 500 rooms and 16 kivas, including elevated or "tower" kivas as well as the more conventional subterranean type. It covers more than 3 acres and is distinguished by a unique colonnade that once faced south along the site’s large plaza. The colonnade is a feature that archeologists attribute to the influence of the Casas Grandes region in what is now Mexico. For me, however, the highlight of the self-guided tour through the pueblo was one of the elevated kivas—or rather the underpinnings thereto. The self-guided trail allows the visitor to descend several steps into the pueblo in order to view the intricacies of the architecture that supported this unusual structure. The odd angles of straight and curved walls of masonry in the depths of the pueblo gave rise to flights of fancy. I visualized pre-Columbian architects with clay tablets and stylus in hand directing workers to build in such-and-such a place. The image was out of time and place, or course, but it was satisfying nonetheless.
Pueblo del Arroyo is located ¼ mile west of Pueblo Bonito, and it is the only Chacoan great house located on the banks of Chaco Wash itself. It also differs from its neighbors in that its orientation is east-west rather than north-south. At its peak, Pueblo del Arroyo probably had more than 280 rooms and 20 kivas, although it apparently never had a great kiva. Tantalizing aspects of a visit to this pueblo include evidence of how its residents dealt with flooding and indications that the pueblo once housed a macaw aviary. The idea of those colorful birds held captive in these high desert surroundings makes the canyon and its residents seem all the more exotic.
Hungo Pavi and Una Vida are both largely unexcavated great house sites located east of Pueblo Bonito. The lack of excavation at these locations places all the more emphasis on their natural surroundings and, indeed, allows the visitor to explore the interrelationship between various Chaco features. For example, it can hardly have been accidental that both Hungo Pavi and Una Vida have extraordinary, uninterrupted views of Fajada Butte. Our party was intrigued by a spectacular petroglyph panel on the cliff wall behind Una Vida and by the remnants of a nineteenth-century Navajo sheep camp. The confluence of Mockingbird and Chaco Canyons at the Hungo Pavi site make for exquisite views. Moreover, its long segments of masonry show signs of stress that both explain the collapse of neighboring walls and left us to marvel at the survival of those remaining.
Another major site along the paved loop road focuses on the great kiva of Casa Rinconada, which is not part of a great house but is surrounded by several small pueblo communities. Casa Rinconada is the largest of the Chacoan great kivas with a capacity that could have accommodated hundreds. The chamber is aligned on a north-south axis with only a minor deviation from cardinal north. The view from rise that houses Casa Rinconada includes Pueblo Bonito, located directly across the canyon, and the walls of Pueblo New Alto, located atop North Mesa above Pueblo Bonito—both of which share the giant kiva’s north-south orientation. There can be little doubt that this kiva had special significance.
Visitors to Chaco should also take time to view the stone stairway cut into the southern wall of the canyon near Casa Rinconada. This wide stairway was once part of the elaborate system of roads that connected the great houses of Chaco with the world beyond the canyon. There are other such stairways elsewhere within the park, but none are both as visible and accessible as this one.
Written by BawBaw on 25 Nov, 2004
A working slogan for hot-air ballooning might well be summed up as "Work Hard, Fly High, and Party Hearty." Certainly, that’s how many, if not most balloonists approach their sport. And the party begins early in the day -- immediately after the balloon has been…Read More
A working slogan for hot-air ballooning might well be summed up as "Work Hard, Fly High, and Party Hearty." Certainly, that’s how many, if not most balloonists approach their sport. And the party begins early in the day -- immediately after the balloon has been safely landed and packed. That means that alcohol rarely touches the lips of balloonists (or least those who are not designated drivers) before the hour of 9am -- a bit less shocking when you consider that by that time, most crew members have been up and about for five hours. After an impromptu toast (usually beer) to the balloon’s safe landing, the crew gathers itself into the hands of its designated drivers and returns to the launch field, where the serious partying occurs. Consequently, Albuquerque’s annual International Balloon Fiesta can fairly be described as a 10-day-long tailgate party.
To their credit, balloonists take the word fiesta back to its roots and turn the world’s largest annual balloon rally into a festival of merrymaking. The tradition of fun is so high that, in addition to the official calendar of events, many balloon crews have developed their own rituals. Our crew, for example, proclaimed a series of theme days for which all and sundry were encouraged to dress to type: Celtic Day with plaids, kilts, and bagpipes; Hawaiian Day with floral-patterned shirts, sarongs, and leis; Mardi Gras Day with beads and masks; and Pirate Day with eye patches, three-cornered hats, and plastic rapiers. Coolish weather is not considered an impediment to wearing, say, a sarong. Layers of warmer clothes beneath more colorful outer garments are key to the art of the workaround, with unneeded layers being discarded as the desert sun warms the air.
The most sacred ritual for the launch field party is that of initiating "newbies" -- welcoming those who have just completed their first balloon flight. The rite begins when either the pilot or the crew chief recounts a brief history of ballooning’s origin and pops open a bottle of champagne, while the young and agile (or sometimes those who merely wish they were!) on the crew position themselves to catch the cork and thus ensure that the next landing will be soft. In the absence of an initiate, the ceremonial popping of the champagne cork will almost certainly find another focus -- someone’s birthday, a personal goal achieved, or happy news of any sort that can be shared and celebrated.
During the distribution of the champagne, the newbie is instructed to kneel on a rug, hands to the side. The new balloonist is then told to take the rim of the cup between clinched teeth and tip the head back to imbibe the bubbly -- without spilling any, of course. Meanwhile, other crew members circle behind the newbie -- the better to douse the initiate with water, more champagne, beer, or all three -- at Fiesta on a cool October morning, and this all amounts to a wet, cold baptism filled with laughter and fun. A toast to flying with fair winds follows, or rather accompanies, the dousing. Finally, the new balloonist is "pinned," a ceremony surrounded with great mystery and replete with many variations (most pilots keep a supply of pins representing their balloons -- the better for pinning, trading, advertising, and just plain giving away); thus is one welcomed ritualistically into the larger company of balloonists.
As with any good party, food, drink, and music are essential. Our adopted crew’s party provisions tended to appear on a potluck basis. Loose networking within the crew and between crews who party together also produces easy pop-up canopies for shelter against the sun, folding camp chairs for basic seating comfort, and camp tables as needed. Individual crew members also have a habit of finding special roles for themselves that they fulfill each year. Within our adopted crew, one member (our son-in-law, as it happens) selects music for each year’s festivities, two sisters coordinate to prepare Jell-O shooters for at least one day of merrymaking, the pilot stashes away several bottles of champagne (for ritual purposes only, of course), and yet another member brings a steady supply of edibles to ensure that food, as well as drink, is in ready supply.
Balloonists have found some ingenious ways to accommodate those needs they regard as most dear. A married couple within our crew provides margaritas made fresh-to-order in a gasoline-powered tailgater blender. One crew we encountered launches a flea-market search each year for a comfy sofa to include as part of their ballooning gear. The sofa is stowed in their chase van and brought out to provide a touch of class and comfort during the launch field party. Another crew with loose ties to our own brings along large pop-up canopies for substantial shelter, generators to power small refrigerators, and a literal menu of sandwiches, finger foods, and beverages -- some of which are even healthy!
Social networking between crews makes for parties that are simultaneously small and intimate, as well as large and widespread. The ballooning community itself is small, and regular participants are generally known to one another, with hospitality between crews occurring routinely. Thus, the launch field party is the perfect venue for discussing all manner of serious issues -- who’s selling a balloon or related equipment, who’s in the market to make a purchase, who may need extra hands at the next day’s launch, what practical matters need to be resolved before next month’s rally, where to get the best deal on a particular type of gear to be purchased, what major sponsor may be looking to lease another balloon, and so on and so forth.
In the past, a launch field party might continue until late afternoon or, if no evening events were scheduled, into early evening. In this day of heightened security, partygoers are expected to vacate the field by 2pm. Revelers can then remove themselves to another location, or they can go to home to practice yet another time-honored tradition, the afternoon nap -- or, as we say in the Southwest, the siesta. Thus is it that ballooning runs the gamut from fiesta tosiesta. Ritual, after all, demands its full course.
Written by BawBaw on 31 Oct, 2004
May the winds welcome you with softness.May the sun bless you with his warm hands. May you fly so high and so wellThat God joins you in laughterAnd sets you gently back into the loving arms of Mother Earth. —The Balloonist PrayerDespite the discouragement offered by…Read More
May the winds welcome you with softness.May the sun bless you with his warm hands. May you fly so high and so wellThat God joins you in laughterAnd sets you gently back into the loving arms of Mother Earth. —The Balloonist Prayer
Despite the discouragement offered by too many mediocre experiences on commercial airliners, part of my psyche still regards flight as a very special form of magic. So when the crew of the balloon Enchanted selected Himself and Yours Truly to be the gondola passengers for the flight of Wednesday, October 6 (my birthday), it was no small gift—not for us and not for the crew.
The gondola of a standard balloon is relatively small, typically holding only three or four people, one of whom is always the pilot. Most sport balloons average only one flight per day—and then only when weather and winds permit. Even given the 10-day span of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, only a handful of passengers will actually be flown by any one balloon. Selecting us to fly quite literally meant that two other members of the crew—that is, members with frankly a stronger claim to the opportunity—would likely not have the chance.
A typical balloon flight begins with the pilot’s briefing to passengers. Our pilot, after many years of experience, has reduced his briefing to three key points:(1) No matter what happens, stay in the gondola until the pilot instructs you that it’s safe to climb out. (2) Always be aware of your surroundings. Keep both eyes open for anything that might interfere with either the balloon’s flight or its landing—including power lines, radio towers, other nearby balloons—and tell the pilot, even if you think he’s already aware of what you see.(3) Follow any and all instructions from the pilot without question or delay.
As a passenger, it’s comforting to remember that balloon pilots are accomplished aviators with training and skills that meet rigorous standards established by the Federal Aviation Administration. A pilot must be able to handle emergencies as well as routine activities, and his expertise constitutes a passenger’s most effective guarantee of safety.
With all these practical matters in mind, the magic begins. Taking flight in a balloon is literally to float on the arms of the wind. Because the craft is carried with and by the wind, the only discernable sense of motion is provided by your balloon’s movement over the landscape below and by other balloons adrift nearby. Being suspended in air inside a wicker gondola feels a bit like standing still at the center of a 360-degree panoramic projection. The higher the balloon ascends, the more profound the illusion.
The world beneath the gondola is a patchwork of patchworks. First comes the launch, with its focus on friends and crew waving and shouting encouragement. Very quickly, the launch field diminishes into a green rectangle, colorfully dotted with other balloons preparing to fly. As the balloon moves higher and is caught by the wind, the field recedes into a far larger pattern. In Albuquerque at Fiesta time, that pattern includes the sharp, straight lines of streets and highways against the desert landscape, the tiled and graveled roofs of residential neighborhoods, the pavements and flattened commercial rooftops of shopping areas, and the green-brown shards of parks scattered throughout the city.
The view finally enlarges to include spectacular views of the Rio Grande Valley, with the river occasionally sparkling through the early-autumn tints of cottonwood groves along its banks, the rugged outlines of the Sandia and Manzano mountain ranges to the east, and the softer, warmer contours of the West Mesa, with its long-dormant volcanoes.
And during a Mass Ascension event at Fiesta, the view roundabout also includes hundreds of other balloons of all colors and many shapes—all drifting with a current of air or darting under their pilots’ direction to higher or lower currents. During our flight, the special shapes who were our neighbors included Airabelle, the flying cow; Little Angel and Little Devil, two brand new balloons based in Brazil; Azul, the blue monster; Smokey the Bear, who made the national news on the last day of Fiesta by snagging a communications tower; and an oversized American flag, sighted off in the distance and viewed against the backdrop of the Sandias.
A good pilot wants a smooth voyage and generally provides passengers with information about what to expect throughout the flight. Our pilot showed us how the propane burner is used to increase elevation, shared bits and pieces of his technical knowledge, discussed the rules of courteous flying to encourage safety awareness, and told us well in advance where and when he planned to land.
Himself and I have ascended and landed twice in a balloon, and the two experiences have been very different—that difference being best defined by the landing. Our first flight in 2002, with the same pilot, ended in a soft hop of the gondola against the desert floor, with lots of helping hands to assist us in climbing back out to Mother Earth.
The second time around, our pilot was given a last-minute signal from an official spotter at his chosen landing site, effectively being asked to re-ascend. The pilot tried to comply, but he was simply too committed to the planned landing and would have been unable to clear a nearby fence. In a split second, he chose to land rather than risk the possibility of being snagged on barbed wire while trying to clear the fence. The slight delay meant that our gondola drug across the ground for about 50 yards before coming to rest against the fence.
We had a rough and exciting few seconds, but our pilot’s skill meant that neither the passengers nor the balloon were damaged. I ended up tumbled in the floor of the basket, under Himself’s long legs. Though the gondola hit the fence, the pilot retained enough control to ensure that the envelope itself cleared the barbed wire. As with our first, less eventful landing, we were again quickly surrounded by the chase crew, who walked the balloon back from the fence and helped us out of the basket. We were a tad rattled, but safe.
As an encore to this experience, we all joined forces to pack the balloon, load it onto the chase vehicle, and head back to the launch field for the post-ascension party. We had a joyous flight to celebrate—and more reason than usual to be grateful for a safe landing. It was indeed a very special birthday.
Written by BawBaw on 12 Oct, 2004
Every hot-air balloon requires a crew to assist the pilot during launch and recovery activities. Most conventional "round" balloons need five to seven people to manage this process efficiently. Special shape balloons, which tend to be more complex, often require much larger crews,…Read More
Every hot-air balloon requires a crew to assist the pilot during launch and recovery activities. Most conventional "round" balloons need five to seven people to manage this process efficiently. Special shape balloons, which tend to be more complex, often require much larger crews, whereas a single-seat "hopper" may need only the pilot and one other crewmember to manage operations on the ground.
For novices, crewing is the gateway into active ballooning. During Fiesta 2004, we quite literally took advantage of family relationships to attach ourselves to the crew of the Enchanted, a balloon owned and piloted by Harold Connell of Las Cruces, New Mexico. Our duties were relatively light as our experience was limited, but when push came to shove, we were expected to dive in to do whatever was necessary to help stand the balloon before launch, to chase and recover the balloon at its landing site, and to re-pack the balloon in preparation for its next flight.
Within the hierarchy of a balloon crew, key personnel consist of the pilot and the crew chief, in that order. Balloons are aircraft governed by local, national, and international regulations, and their pilots are licensed aviators who must complete a course of training specified by the Federal Aviation Administration. Crew chiefs are senior crewmembers who generally have in-depth experience with ballooning. Given the nature of ballooning with its inherent risks, it is vital that novice volunteers be willing to take instructions from senior crewmembers. Although rank is not generally obvious within a balloon crew, a volunteer’s unwillingness to respond to instructions or to share the workload as requested will ensure a short career in ballooning.
At Fiesta, out-of-town pilots often depend on support from local volunteers for the simple reason that bringing along their usual crew would raise the cost of participation. New Mexico in general and Albuquerque in particular boast a large ballooning community, and many experienced local crewmembers volunteer to help visiting pilots on either a full- or part-time basis throughout the rally. Recruiting for a crew occurs on both an informal and a formal basis, which means that onlookers suddenly bitten by the ballooning bug can volunteer their services through the Balloon Fiesta website, by telephone at 505/821-1000, or in person at a booth maintained on the south end of Balloon Fiesta Park.
Typical crew tasks for standing the balloon include manning the fan used for the cold stage of inflation, holding open the throat of the balloon to facilitate inflation, and anchoring the crown line at the top of the balloon envelope while inflation is in progress. During Fiesta, crowd control is often added to the task roster. Onlookers are encouraged to wander the launch field, but they are asked not to interfere with the work of balloon crews or to touch the envelopes with their bare hands. (Gloved hands are OK, but bare hands will leave behind natural oils and residues that can damage the fabric of a balloon's envelope.)
Once launch has occurred, the crew's key tasks shift to spotting and chasing the balloon until it returns to earth, which typically entails hopping into the back of a pickup truck and dashing off in whatever direction the balloon has taken. I have to admit that, especially at my age, speeding through the streets in the back of a pickup has its charms, despite the toll exacted in aching joints. Communication between the pilot and the chase crew is facilitated these days with cell phones, though radios and walkie-talkies are also still in use. Having a driver or passenger-seat navigator with intimate knowledge of local highways and byways is crucial to a successful balloon chase, which is why finding a local volunteer to participate in the chase is often a highly placed item on the Fiesta wish list of out-of-town balloonists.
Recovering the balloon from its landing site is often the most challenging responsibility of the crew. Despite the skill of the pilot, balloons often set down in inconvenient places. At Fiesta 2004, our crew had to lift the Enchanted over a fence topped with barbed wire, then walk it through a field of desert brush to set it down in an area less likely to damage the envelope. That meant coordinating with and responding promptly to the verbal instructions of the pilot. I found myself hanging onto the towline and pushing though chest-high tumbleweeds. Once a suitable location was found, the pilot pulled the crown line to deflate the balloon, and the chase crew proceeded to lay out and re-pack the envelope. With recovery complete, the crew loaded the balloon into the chase vehicle and piled in for the return trip to the launch field, which, of course, was where the post-flight party began!
Written by tdsinfo on 03 Feb, 2003
Awakening to a bright blue morning sky and crisp autumn air, we set off for a morning stroll. We head out to "Maggie’s Valley" and then back past our cabin down the dirt road to check out the observing area and small library (also known…Read More
Awakening to a bright blue morning sky and crisp autumn air, we set off for a morning stroll. We head out to "Maggie’s Valley" and then back past our cabin down the dirt road to check out the observing area and small library (also known as the "warming room") used for the nightly star gazing sessions.
It is all so quiet and peaceful, as if we are the only two people on earth.
After our morning exploration we head back to the cabin for a light breakfast and then a nap. I drowsily listen to the golden silence. The only sound I hear is the wind cascading down the hillside through the tall pines and the occasional raindrop-like "tat" of pine needles on the slanting roof. I drift off into blissful sleep.
This is, thus far, the major accomplishment as we enjoy our first full day at the Star Hill Inn, about ten miles north of Las Vegas, New Mexico. After a week of being on the road throughout southeastern New Mexico, it is nice to slow down.
We arrive in Las Vegas the previous day, Friday, around two in the afternoon. We stop for a brief walk through Old Town (where most of the buildings date to the nineteenth century), have lunch, and then head north on route 518 for Star Hill. The drive through town takes us down tree-lined streets, past handsome, cozy houses of brick and wood, with front porches and gabled roofs.
At first, I blow right past the little country dirt road that leads two-and-a-half miles into the countryside and the entrance to the Star Hill Inn. Jayne gently suggests that we have gone too far, but, of course, being the Road Dog that I am, I feel it necessary to drive several miles further before convincing myself that she is right. I may never learn.
We do eventually make it to the entrance of the property and drive down a gravel and dirt road to the "office", situated to one side of two-story wood frame family home. The family run quality of the place is apparent as we follow a sign toward the office, walking through a small wooden gate guarded by two jack-o-lanterns. The place is locked up tight and we haven’t yet seen a soul on the property. Jayne notices a sign next to the office door with the name "Schueneman" prominently displayed along with a note apologizing for not being home but to make ourselves at home with directions to our cabin.
We have the "Sunflower"; a cute little one bedroom bungalow. The red porch light is on (red light is protocol for sky watchers – to help preserve night vision), as well as several of the quaint lamps inside the cabin. Though it is only four-thirty in the afternoon, this "light touch" makes the little cabin beckon invitingly.
It sure looks like people have been here, but we have yet to see anyone. The door to Sunflower is unlocked and we proceed to do as instructed – we make ourselves at home.
Soon we are out on the path leading to the "meditation garden" and labyrinth (which, interestingly enough for this writer is modeled from a kit provided by Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. Hey! I work there!).
The labyrinth is actually in need of some mowing and trimming, and since accomplishing this task will currently involve Jayne and I - we appear to be the only ones presently on the face of the earth - we move on to the meditation garden. The garden consists of four low wooden boxes, painted blue, arrayed around a large rock. Apparently the idea is to contemplate the rock in order to "lose yourself" in these beautiful surroundings.
All well and good, but I am inclined to lose myself in the towering pines and golden aspen, softly whispering, "Hello and welcome".